Mad Housewife Stuffed Grape Leaves
Category: Side Dishes | Blog URL: http://madhousewifecellars.typepad.com/blog/the-mad-housewife-kitchen/
This recipe was entered in The Foodista Best of Food Blogs Cookbook contest, a compilation of the world’s best food blogs which was published in Fall 2010.
Photo: Ruth Francisco
Remembrance of Meals Past
It is hard to know how to entertain the elderly. They can’t see or hear well. They have a difficult time getting around. They are in pain. At some point, they don’t even want to leave the house. Food is one of the few pleasures that remains, and opens the door to fond memories.
My mother loved to travel, and when she could no longer board a plane, I made her baba ghanoush and baklava, and she would remember her trip to Greece—the purple waters of the Aegean, the wild herbs, olive trees, and seaside cafes. When I served her Guinness stout and shepherd’s pie, she reminisced about her vacations in Britain. And when I made oatmeal cookies from an old family recipe, she chuckled about her days as a Mad Housewife.
She taught me the Greek word kaimos, which means the painful remembrance of something pleasurable. With every story it became clear that she would never see these lands again. Her life was nearly over. Yet her stories brought joy to both of us.
Preparing healthful meals for seniors isn’t much different than for the rest of us—fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat protein, few refined carbohydrates—with the added emphasis on fiber, calcium, vitamins D and B-12, and fluid intake. Taste buds diminish with age as do the other senses, so one can use a little more spice, a little more pepper. Instead of salt use lots of herbs. But above all, food should be delightful, something to anticipate.
When preparing dinner for my mother, I made sure the portions were small, colorful, and easy to eat. I fed her things I knew she seldom splurged on, like sea scallops cooked with fennel and sherry. I always tried to surprise her with some flavor she had never tasted—a Portuguese goat cheese, a Sicilian salami, a Hawaiian fruit. Two or three bites were enough. It gave her a new experience. A teetotaler most of her life, Mom had never tasted expensive wines, or knew the pleasures of port or an almond aperitif. I’m not sure she even liked some of the drinks I tried on her, but that hardly mattered. It was new and different, an adventure through food.
My mother enjoyed the ceremony of food. Appetizers in the sun room, dinner at the table, dessert in the living room—a little exercise to ease her joints. She adored inviting a friend over for lunch. I would cook something special and all she had to do was visit. This made her feel as if she were entertaining. Once I cooked a large meal for a family reunion. There was too much noise and too many people for her to understand much of what was going on, and it made her very tired. But I don’t think I ever saw her happier, sitting at the head of the table, smiling at the confusion.
I am grateful for this time spent cooking for my mother. We were closer than we had ever been. Disappointments and resentments were forgotten. Food gave us a way to speak to each other, a way for me to express my love and a way for her to express approval and appreciation. We lived in the moment, over nourishing food, sharing our memories of meals past.
When she no longer wanted to eat, I knew our time together would soon be over.
Once a week a friend of mine visits her mother who has Alzheimer’s. Before her visit, she buys her mother a lavish pastry from a German bakery, a bear claw or fruit tart. Often her mother complains—in a voice that recalls her theatrical training—that this is NOT the pastry she wanted, and that the lemon cream is “GLuuu-tinous.” But by the end of the visit, she has eaten the pastry and has waxed lyrical about the bakeries in her native Sweden, which make her recall other stories of her childhood. She eats every last crumb.
If food is a medium for love, stories are a medium for gratitude, a reward for our patience.
This holiday season, cheer the old person in your life. Make her a meal, amuse her with a glass of Mad Housewife wine, and listen to her stories. You’ll be glad you did.